The fiction in this issue of the VQR offers “Superhero Stories.” But none of the protagonists of the short fiction that opens the magazine – a discharged sailor who suffered psychic and physical wounds in the 1946 Bikini Atoll atomic bomb test; a masked vigilante who comes across as “a slurring crackpot taking a momentary break from a barbiturate triathlon” in his only public appearance; and a homebody in boxer shorts who commandeers the voices of televangelists – are paragons of virtue. Instead, Scott Snyder, Tom Bissell, and George Singleton give us blackly comic portraits of the flawed and fallen. These are men forged and broken in violence, antiheroes for our own times.
Editor Ted Genoways notes in his preface that broadcast evangelism arose during the Depression from the same national longing that produced the first comic book superheroes. Bill Sizemore’s long essay on the unlikely career of Pat Robertson, the most influential later-day peddler of charismatic religion, suggests that our thirst for the miraculous has yet to be exhausted. Robertson claims to have spoken to God, battled Satan, diverted hurricanes, and has argued for the assassination of foreign leaders, used charitable donations to fund a diamond-mining operation in the Congo, and unleashed an army of graduates of a fourth-tier Christian law school to pack the Justice Department. Sizemore’s essay is a fascinating and chilling look at an American phenomenon.
Themes of impermanence and mortality run through many of the poems in this issue by Charles Simic, Charles Wright, Ted Kooser, Billy Collins and others. Simic’s “What He Said,” whose speaker describes the aftermath of the war in Europe sixty years ago, also bears witness to our own endless wars: “Seeing a young man in a wheelchair / Pushed by his mother / Who kept her eyes averted / So she wouldn’t see what the war did to him.” Michael Bishop’s understated elegy for his son, an instructor murdered in the Virginia Tech massacre, is composed with a lucid dignity that testifies to a vast paternal love and grief.
There is much more of note here, including Kwame Dawes on HIV and AIDS in Jamaica, Matthew Power on sailing to the Galapagos, Lawrence Weschler in conversation with Robert Irwin, and a comic from the great Chris Ware. The VQR is at the forefront of contemporary literary journals, offering journalism, fiction, poetry and criticism informed by a cosmopolitan and humane sensibility. This rich volume deserves to be read in entirety.